Black & Decker’s new lopping tool harnesses all the chopping power of an electric chainsaw, but fully encases the deadly chain, so there’s no chance of accidentally running amok in the style of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Instead, the steel jaws grip your unlucky branch while the chain slices through it in seconds, making jobs like dicing firewood and pruning trees actually rather fun.
While the Alligator’s bite is considerable, the rest of the tool is invitingly made from smooth, toughened plastic with tactile rubber grips on the long handles. These handles lock together to deny young hands access to the chain and there are start buttons on both handles, which must be pressed simultaneously to start the saw.
Crucially, the Alligator is cordless, which is a serious advantage if you’re the kind of tree surgeon that spends most of his time swinging from the forest canopy. It also rules out the danger of cutting through your own power cord.
The battery itself is an 18V Ni-Cad block like the rest of B&D’s 18V system, that locks onto the handle, thereby balancing out the considerable weight of the jaws. On a full charge you can get a good hour’s worth of action out of the Alligator, but as you’d expect the hefty 4.5 Amp motor is very demanding.
At full power though, these bionic sheers made short work of our timber pile, grabbing and slicing in one unnervingly easy action. Dry sticks tend to snap immediately, while thick green branches that would defy any king of shears slice cleanly.
The chain is enclosed, but doesn’t seem to jam at all. The only maintenance you need to worry about is applying a little oil at regular time intervals to the chain. It makes quite a racket when you’re in full swing. A sticker on the box warns of 95db noise levels, so we’d recommend ear defenders.
Flying debris, always a feature of electric chainsaws, is less of a problem here, although the safety manual suggests goggles be worn. Unless you actually wave the open and spinning jaws around your head, or clamp them onto a part of your anatomy, there’s little chance of an accident.
It’s made of lightweight materials but, even so, holding the heavy jaws outstretched strained our puny arms after ten minutes of sawing.
The speed at which we hacked through the woodpile outweighed any weight disadvantage though. The Alligator is much more effective than shears and significantly easier and safer to use than a chainsaw. It’s one of those rare innovations that will almost certainly spawn a new product category – once the patent expires anyway.